Polite Society (2023) Review

Quick Synopsis: A martial artist-in-training believes she must save her older sister from her impending marriage. 

I caught a singular trailer for this a while back and was intrigued. It looked cool, looked well-made, and (most importantly), it looked fun. It reminded me of We Are Lady Parts (WALP, pronounced, well, Walp), and a small part of me worried about that. Not because I didn’t like WALP, I loved that show. But I did think “Wait, do I think this just because they’re both women-centric comedy dramas about Islamic people in modern Britain?”. Because if so, that makes me a bit dodgy. You know, a bit like people who count Get Out and Beverly Hills Cop as similar because “both Black Cinema”.

Turns out there was a reason for the similarities, both Polite Society and WALP were written/directed by Nida Manzoor. Polite Society is an incredibly ambitious attempt for a first-time feature, and she nails it. She’s great at balancing different tropes and expectations across multiple genres within the same film. For this to work we need to believe the central relationship between the sisters. We also need Ria to seem likeable so that she doesn’t just come off as a weird jealous younger sibling. Manzoor handles the characterisation perfectly, but she is lucky that Ria is played by Priya Kansara, I’m not that familiar with her work (I think this is her first lead role) but her performance in this was so good that her being in something could end up being the deciding factor as to whether I watch something in the future. Priya has great chemistry with Ritu Arya (who plays her sister Lena), you genuinely believe they love each other.

The other thing needed for this to work: the stunts. Ria is a stunt woman, which adds a certain expectation to the fight scenes. If they were found lacking it would make it difficult to enjoy the film; it would be like having a film about a character who’s a very talented musician, but the music is terrible. I loved the action sequences in this, they’re done in such a playful way that it’s almost ballet in terms of how intricate some of the physical interactions are. On the downside, there isn’t one that stands out, they are good but quite similar in structure and layout. I’m not saying a film like this NEEDS a stand-out scene, but it does help to have a sequence you can point out to people and say “See, THIS is the moment” which you can use as an anchor.

Now how does this film rank in terms of plot? It’s a lot better than you’d think. It does the whole “Is Ria right to be mistrustful?” dilemma perfectly, not outright saying whether she’s right or not for most of the film. Is the mother angry because she’s evil, or because Ria is being obnoxious and trying to ruin the wedding? And is Lena being abused, or has she just given up and gone through a depressive state? Most of the motivations are very open to interpretation and inspire internal debate throughout. Then you have the third act. Trying to think how to say this without spoiling it; it’s batshit insane. It’s something that will turn some people off BECAUSE of where it goes, but I absolutely loved it. Not just because I like weird, but also because whilst it seems like it comes out of nowhere, it is set up beforehand, you just don’t realise it. It’s absolutely magnificent and the reveal will probably end up being one of the year’s highlights.

In summary, one of the best things I’ve seen this year. It has everything I love in a film; performances, story, action sequences, original, an X-Ray Spex song, and Blaze from Gladiators. I hope everybody watches this film, as it deserves a huge audience.


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